An internet of GE things

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett May 6, 2013
Summary:
My good buddy Vinnie Mirchandani says I spend far too much time worrying about yesterday's technology. He may be right but then I worry a lot about the people and things that pay the bills, move things around, get things made and so on. However, there is a largely unseen world to which we should pay attention.

IndustrialI_Internet1 - GE
My good buddy Vinnie Mirchandani says I spend far too much time worrying about yesterday's technology. He may be right but then I worry a lot about the people and things that pay the bills, move things around, get things made and so on. However, there is a largely unseen world to which we should pay attention. The so-called 'internet of things.' Here, companies that you don't normally bucket as 'tech' are quietly investing eye watering amounts in building sensor technologies, adding intelligence to pre -existing networks and figuring out how to use the massive amounts of data that are being generated from many millions of devices.

In a GE sponsored paper entitled The Machines Are Talking, OReilly Media catalogues some extraordinary facts. Example:

Dennis Sumner, senior electrical engineer at Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado told O’Reilly that a $36 million investment in advanced electricity meters could pay off in 11 years just from operational savings. But since the meters can read electricity usage every 15 minutes, a 2,880-fold increase compared to human meter-readers, they also provide the utility with tremendous resolution and tools to detect outages immediately. “Previously, we didn’t know what was going on at the customer level,” Sumner said. “Imagine trying to operate a highway system if all you have are monthly traffic readings for a few spots on the road.”

Another example:

Norfolk Southern is using GE’s Trip Optimizer software as “a kind of autopilot for locomotives,” and Movement Planner software as an “advisor and controller.” Deborah Butler, Norfolk Southern’s chief information officer, told O’Reilly that her railroad has seen a 6.3 percent reduction in fuel usage and 10 to 20 percent increases in velocity from the software.

What's going on?

My best guess is that companies like GE, which have decades experience in industries like automotive, energy utilities and aviation are now leveraging both their experience and scale to build the next generation applications which sit as a layer above those that pay the bills. These are the types of application that differentiate, providing that essential 'last mile' of functionality required to truly understand what is happening. Compute power is now at a point where it is possible to extract and analyze data at near molecular level. This provides a wealth of insights that were hitherto unknown.

That's all very well, but we are talking about machines. Where is the human element in all this? Again, my best guess is that the mega vendors - IBM, SAP, Oracle, HP along with the Accenture's of this world will figure out how business can juxtapose human activity against this emerging internet of things.

If so, then it will radically change the way we perceive applications. Of course we'll need to keep the lights on but I suspect the importance of doing so will diminish from an investment standpoint. That work is done, at least from a functional perspective.

My question is a bit more broad ranging. I wonder the extent to which these new data sources and the way they are consumed will impact how we work, what we work upon and the benefits of doing so in a connected world where the social elements become part of a much larger equation.

We are already seeing this in small ways. For instance, Hi-Technology Group is working out how its understanding of customer usage patterns can help it predict customer demand. Elsewhere, Basis Technologies is working out when energy customers are likely to complain, when they need service and upwards to customer group profitability. At a proof of concept level, a couple of developers in Australia are figuring out how to remotely manage the lifecycle of cows, while Warwick Analytics is discovering the root causes of manufacturing failure.

As Vinnie is fond of telling me - we are privileged to be living at a time when we can catalog and marvel at innovations that were unthinkable even five or ten years ago.